Wetland ecosystems, including rivers, lakes, swamps, marshes, dams, fishponds, rice fields, coastal marine areas, provide many services that contribute to human wellbeing and poverty alleviation. In Kenya, wetlands occupy approximately 3-4 per cent of Kenya’s land area. Despite this seemingly small geographic extent, wetlands provide some of the most critical ecosystem services to a large number of communities particularly those living near wet- lands.
Wetlands regulate the water flows, provide food, store carbon, store energy, and are crucial for biodiversity. Their benefits to people are essential for the future security of humankind. Conservation and the wise and use of wetlands are vital for sustainable socio-economic development. Therefore, human well-being depends on many benefits provided to people by healthy wetland ecosystems.
Policymaking, planning, decision-making and management action by a wide range of the social and economic sectors, at all levels from international to local, can benefit from the global consensus input that the Ramsar Convention on wetlands provides. This includes the identification of the relevance of wetlands, the importance of their conservation and wise use, and ensuring security of the benefits that wetlands provide in terms of water, carbon storage, food, energy, biodiversity and livelihoods. Wetlands are therefore crucial for the attainment of the Millenium Development Goals and the Kenya Vision 2030 goals. Despite the critical functions wetlands provide they are constantly under threat and many continue to be degraded and even lost at an alarming pace.
Water and wetlands
Water is a critical natural resource that influences all social and economic sectors as shown in figure 1 below. This call for integrated wetlands resource management, that will ensure sustainability of water supply. Wetlands are considered as “natural water infrastructures” with the ability to act as water storage and supply facility.
The principal supply of renewable fresh water for human use comes from an array of inland wetlands, including lakes, rivers, swamps, and shallow groundwater aquifers. Groundwater, often recharged through wetlands, plays an important role in water supply, with an estimated 1.5–3 billion people dependent on it as a source of drinking water. Wetlands have significant influence on the hydrological cycle and have, therefore, become important elements in water management policy at national, regional and international level. There are many examples where wetlands reduce floods, recharge groundwater or augment low river flows.
The role of the Kenya Wildlife Service in wetlands management
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is the Kenyan Administrative Authority for the Ramsar Convention on wetlands of international importance. Kenya ratified the Convention in June 1990. The Ramsar convention on wetlands is primarily concerned with the conservation and management of wetlands. Parties to the convention are required to promote wise use of wetlands in their territories and to take measures for their conservation by establishing nature reserves in wetlands, whether they are included in the Ramsar list or not. KWS has been in the forefront in designating all the Ramsar sites in Kenya in partnership with all stakeholders. These Ramsar sites include: Lake Naivasha, L. Nakuru, L. Baringo, L. Bogoria, L. Elementaita and Tana River Delta.
KWS, therefore, is mandated to oversee the management of these sites. KWS also advises the Government of Kenya on sites that qualify as Ramsar sites. The benefits of Ramsar site designation include: Support for Protection of the Site and Surrounding Area - Ramsar designation can encourage partnerships that focus on watershed conservation efforts, and can be useful in dealing with off-site development that could threaten the biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by the wetland site. Increased Funding Opportunities - Ramsar designation helps with grant applications and other funding requests for restoration, community livelihood support, tourism, and education among other sustainable development initiatives.